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Rutgers to open new season with changes to leadership, facility

When there is change, you can either embrace it or run away from it. The Rutgers gymnastics team learned last year what change can do to a team that embraces a shift in leadership. Head coach Umme Salim-Beasley walked in with an entirely new staff and a vision to make the Scarlet Knights rise from the bottom of the Big Ten. 

Out of all the first year NCAA head gymnastic coaches for the 2019 season, Salim-Beasley proved to be the most effective as she moved Rutgers up nine spots in the national rankings. The next best mark by a head coach was two spots over by Temple, where Salim-Beasley was formerly employed before stepping onto the floor at the Banks. 

"I think everything came together better than we had expected," Salim-Beasley said on scarletknights.com. "A lot of times when it's a new staff, it takes a little longer for the change to happen because … it takes a little while for people to catch hold and understand the purpose behind it. They embraced it and were able to catch hold of it a lot quicker than we had expected."

If fans thought the biggest changes were over, they’d be wrong. Every year is a different team and with a new home, new senior leadership and new schedule. How the Knights perform this season will be based on how they react to change.

Same Campus, New Home

The Rutgers training facility out of the Livingston Recreation Center was in need of a major upgrade. It is located on the outskirts of campus and provided little room for the Knights to practice. At the beginning of the semester, the new RWJ Barnabas Health Athletic Performance Center opened beside the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC), which includes the state-of-the-art facility that the team now trains out of.

Knowing Rutgers was one of the most improved teams in the nation last season, a new training facility will only help the Knights better prepare for the 2020 season.

New Senior Leadership 

The former Rutgers seniors were staples on the lineup and great leaders to guide the team with Salim-Beasley. This time around, seniors Shannon Farrell and Kaitlyn Hall are taking the reins as the Knights' captains. 

"Shannon and Kait are fantastic role models," Salim-Beasley said. "They lead by example and use their experiences to help encourage and motivate their teammates inside and outside of the gym. Both were major contributors to every competition last year. Their teammates admire their determination and look to them for support.”

Farrell was dubbed queen of the bars for her stellar performances in the event last season. The Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey, native recorded her career high of 9.925 on bars this past year and recorded multiple first place finishes in the event. 

Hall was named Rutgers' most improved gymnast for posting career highs in all of her events: 9.825 on bars and beam, as well as a 9.800 on vault. Hailing from Raytown, Missouri, Hall flipped her way to consistent scores approximately 9.700 throughout the season in all three events.

20/20 Vision for the 2020 Schedule

The Knights are going to have to be at the top of their game for this upcoming season. A rigorous schedule awaits Rutgers, who will face multiple nationally ranked teams in competition including Iowa State, Minnesota, Michigan and Penn State. 

"We talk about being able to build off of our foundation from last year," Salim-Beasley said. "This year's schedule is definitely going to be a challenging one, where we are coming up against some opponents that we haven't competed against that are top 10, top 15 programs.”

First up, the Knights have a quad meet against Arizona, the Cyclones and Western Michigan in Arizona on Jan. 11. Rutgers' home opener will be against Minnesota, Bowling Green and Ursinus at the RAC on Jan. 18.

"It'll be nice to see what we will be able to accomplish competing against ranked teams,” Salim-Beasley said. “This year is going to be a season for us to really stretch our wings a little bit and see what our student-athletes are capable of doing since they have settled in from last year.”

For updates on the Rutgers gymnastics team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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